Top 10 Things I Learned From DFW Writers Conference 2015

Road trip to Dallas! I follow several agents & authors on Twitter that raved about how amazing the Dallas/Fort Worth Writers Conference is (plus, I needed to see the Gong Show in person), so I decided to give it a go this year. Met some wonderful people and learned A TON of useful information.  Best of all, the agent I pitched to requested my FULL manuscript. SQUEE!!!

Summarized for your convenience (and mine!) by type of info, here are the top 10 things I learned from this year’s DFW Writers Conference.


10.) DO NOT use Courier when submitting query letters and requested chapters. I’ve always read that using either Courier or Times New Roman are considered “Standard Manuscript Format” when submitting, so this was news to me. Almost all the agents had strong words to say about Courier vs. Times New Roman, and none of them were positive.  The consensus was that it looked old-fashioned and was harder to read… especially at 11pm after a long day of reading tons of other query letters, manuscripts, emails, and various other agent-y type activities.

9.) When writing a query letter, shorter is better.  The DFW Writers Conference has a highly anticipated event called the Gong Show, where an anonymously submitted query letter is read aloud and a panel of agents bangs a gong whenever they would have stopped reading the letter. After 3 people have rung the gong, the agents who banged the gong explain why they rejected the query. Brutal, but helpful. Only two query letters were read in entirety and only one of the two had agents request pages.  A running theme throughout the approximately fifty query letters was that they were just too long. An agent doesn’t have that kind of time, and extensive plot details should be saved for a synopsis.  A query letter should read more like the back cover blurb: short enough to give you a clue what the basic plot is, and enough left up in the air that the agent asks for chapters—or even a full manuscript!


8.) Do Last Minute Recon!  DFWCon was kind enough to provide an Excel sheet listing which genres each agent/editor represented.  Unfortunately, by the time the conference rolled around, some of the agents were closed to submissions for several of the check-marked genres, and the authors didn’t find out ’til they were actually pitching the agent in person.  This is why it pays to do last minute research on your agent—check their webpage the night before your pitch to see if anything has changed, and if it has, ask if you can change your pitch session to another agent.  Everyone is there to make the best book connections possible, so neither the agent nor the conference personnel will be offended. If that doesn’t pan out, make sure you’ve researched all the other agents/editors and elevator-pitch your 2nd choice agent after a panel, workshop, social, etc.

7.) Huzzah! You pitched an agent and they requested your 1st three chapters! After a Muppet flail of joy, and texting everyone you know, exactly how long do you have to get everything in order and send if off to the agent?  Answer: 24 hours.

Just kidding! Undo your heart attack, and take a deep breath. Agents know you want to put your best foot forward. If you’re lucky, you learned a bunch at the conference or from your critique group and can put those improvements into your novel. If you just need a breather so the panic of Oh-My-Gosh-An-Agent-Actually-Wants-To-See-Something! wears off, that’s fine too.  Obviously sending it to the agent sooner is preferred so they have your concept fresh in their mind and some of the initial excitement from the pitch still remains, but agent after agent reiterated that they want it done RIGHT, not just done RIGHT NOW.  So, send them the absolute best manuscript you can make, even if it takes a few months (yes, they said this was fine!) to get it ready, and just put a reminder note that they requested your 1st three chapters/50 pages/full manuscript at the ______ Conference/query letter/etc. Also, *high five* on the request! ☺


6.) Start making a list of blogs NOW.  Even if you don’t have a book deal or even an agent, if you plan on doing a blog tour or promoting your book on the internet at all (which, unfortunately you will need to do), you will need to connect with bloggers, readers, and authors. Look for blogs in your genre, and focus on ones that have a large following.  Read and follow them as much as you can and make comments so your name gets recognized.  Why is this so important?  Popular blogs book their guest posts 6-12 months in advance, so once you get rolling, you’ll need to send your requests to guest post ASAP.

5.) You need an author webpage, Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest/etc., & Facebook page ASAP. If you don’t have these, you need to get on it! Your biggest responsibility after writing the book is marketing it, even if you have a Big 5 publisher. Almost all of the agents preferred that you already have these set up BEFORE you even query them about your novel.  Once again, it’s all about networking and setting up your reader base. 

4.) Use your advance money for book marketing.  Yay! I finally got paid for something I wrote! I’m going to buy a fancy Persian cat and a trampoline! Sure, that sounds awesome, but the advance is an ADVANCE on the potential of your novel to make money for YOU AND THE PUBLISHER.  Use the money and put it back into your book by buying additional advance reader copies to give away, swag, bookmarks, and other marketing tools that boost awareness of your book.  The greater your sales, the more likely your publisher will buy your NEXT book.

3.) Author business cards: make them!  I got mine from Moo (and I love them!), and it was one of the best investments for networking with agents & other authors.  Not only does it say you are taking this writing business seriously (words from an agent I pitched, not mine!) it helps you keep track of people you met without resorting to slips of paper torn from the program with an illegible name and email scribbled on them. Write a note on each card about the person to help remember them (sci-fi writer, likes fly-fishing, owns a retro movie theatre, etc.) and then KEEP IN TOUCH with these people—email authors after the conference, connect on Facebook & Twitter, thank the agents for letting you pitch them or ask them questions about the business, etc. You are starting/growing your author network.


2.) YOU get to beg authors for cover blurbs! So, I always assumed the agent or publisher asks famous author-types to do the cover blurbs, but agent after agent said that SURPRISE! the author is in charge of that…which is awesome since as a debut author I know so many* famous authors personally and have them on speed-dial.

*Not true

This is where all the networking and social media and so forth that you’ve been working on comes in handy. If you’ve been doing it right, you’re following your favorite authors on Twitter/Facebook/etc. and interacting with them.  Hopefully, some of these authors write in the same genre as you and you can request a blurb from them. Note—you must actually interact with them, otherwise you’re just another follower of their 20,000+ and that would defeat the point!

1.) Write your next book. Every single agent, editor, author, panelist, workshop presenter said this, and it makes sense.  Yes, you’ve written the Great American Novel–if only an agent would take a chance on it. So while you’re waiting for agents to get back to you and piling up the rejection slips…write the NEXT Great American Novel. Even if the first book sells right away, your agent is going to ask what else you have. Most people take >1 year to write and revise their 1st novel.  Once you’re published, the time crunch begins. For authors writing a series, publishers want book #2 written, revised, edited by their editors, and ready to publish NINE months after book 1. For non-series books that is only pushed back to 1 year from the previous book.  Basically, you’re on a permanent deadline once your 1st book is bought, and the more of novel #2 you have ready, the better prepared you’ll be to handle the added stress.

DFW Writers Conference 2016 will be April 23-24. To get the *Super-early Registration* rate of $190 (vs. $399 full price this year), sign up here.  Offer ends Aug. 18th. I had an amazing time this year and definitely recommend it!  I’ve already bought my ticket, so I’ll see you there!

*This post was first created for Writespace Houston’s blog

Adventures With World Book Night

For the past couple of years I have been participating as a Giver with World Book Night (which is a misnomer b/c it’s mostly UK and USA).  Last  year I chose the book Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris:


and gave them to my Toastmasters group.  I wanted to share my experience with World Book Night so that you can see an example of how it works and hopefully be inspired to sign up as givers in years to come.  So without further ado…

What is World Book Night?

Most literacy events and programs are focused on children and young readers, while adults have been largely ignored. The Goal of World Book Night is to have people who are passionate about books or reading become ambassadors for reading. They have the opportunity to reach out to their communities to put books in the hands of light readers and people who don’t regularly read.

Why is this important?

Studies have shown that reading changes lives. It can improve literacy, improve employability, social interaction, enfranchisement, and can have a positive effect on mental health and happiness. Book readers are more likely to participate in positive activities such as volunteering, attending cultural events, and even physical exercise!

Is this something new?

New-ish.  World Book Night began in 2010 in The United Kingdom as a way to increase adult literacy. Since then, it had occurred each year on April 23rd— chosen because it is Shakespeare’s birthday (this is what happens when you put the British in charge!).

This is 3rd year the United States has participated in the event. Last year 25,000 volunteers in the US gave out half a million free books and that # is expected to increase this year due to increased awareness and participation of volunteers which is AWESOME!

How does it work?

For each event, book offerings are chosen from suggestions collected from librarians, booksellers, a list of top 300 national bestsellers, and over 20,000 suggestions from the previous year’s participants! Books range from contemporary to classics, and everything in-between so that they will appeal to a wide-range of readers.

Each of the 30 selected titles is printed as special not-for-resale (no barcode!) World Book Night editions. The authors receive no royalties and the book printers provide the copies FREE of charge to the volunteers to give out.

Why is only one book title given per giver?

Having the giver select their top choice of the 30 books to be handed out allows them to earnestly speak to their audience and tell them, “This is a book I loved, and I think you’ll love it just as much!” When given to a group, it encourages an exchange of ideas and information, and the readers can compare their experiences as they progress through the book.

Why I chose to give to my Toastmasters group & why I chose Me Talk Pretty One Day -A set of 28 essays from #1 New York Times Bestselling humorist David Sedaris:

Whether you are a native English speaker or not, reading will help improve your speaking skills. You learn new vocabulary, new ways to grab and keep the attention of your audience, and new stories to pass on to others.   I firmly believe time spent reading is not wasted, & improves our speaking capabilities. I chose this book for 3 reasons:

  1. Its humor—something entertaining will always keep your attention longer than a dull technical book and I didn’t want my group to be bored!,
  2. Its short essays—because no matter how busy our lives might get, we all should have enough minutes in a day to complete reading a short essay.  Reading a whole novel can take awhile, especially when we’re working 80 hours a week (I know I’m still reading the Steve Jobs biography I started last year!!!) and lastly,
  3. My Toastmasters group is a mixture of many nationalities, cultures, and occupations. I chose this book because many of our Toastmasters members are not native English speakers and are here to improve their language skills. The title essay-Me talk pretty one day, will particularly speak to them (and anyone else who has tried to master a foreign language!) as you follow the author’s quest to improve his French speaking skills.

A lot of the givers I’ve met with over the past couple years have focused their efforts on homeless persons and childrens’ groups.  While these are most definitely worthy of World Book Night, you are free to give to ANY group that you feel would benefit from reading more.    Over the next few months, as they worked their way through the essays, I received numerous emails & comments from my Toastmasters group, expressing their appreciation for the book and how relatable it was.  The key is choosing something you think fits best with the group you will be giving to (ie. not War & Peace for a group of 7th graders).

If I’ve piqued your interest, just remember, it’s FREE to be a giver, and one of the most rewarding and fun book events I’ve participated in!


Festivals & Boxes & Media, Oh My!

On Festivals/Conferences:

I have accomplished one goal for 2014 so far: attending a writing conference/festival (The Dahlonega Literary Festival in Dahlonega, GA).  It was FREE (always a favorite of mine!), and I also got involved by hosting a write-in at the end of the festival.

I did enjoy listening to the various panels of published authors speak.  Many of them had very insightful comments on the publishing business and the writing process.  For example, it appeared to be a well-known (not by me) fact that you are not supposed to include back-story in the first 30-50 pages of your novel.  This makes sense in that you want to hook the reader, hint at character motivations, and start off with action to keep the pace and the reader going, but I had never heard it given a specific page # before.

Of the speakers, I enjoyed Deanna Raybourn, James R. Tuck, Janice Hardy, and Alex Hughes the most.  If you get a chance, please attend a writing conference!  I highly recommend it not just for getting your publishing questions answered, but for VALIDATION of your process.  Does everyone you know plot before writing?  Or start with character instead of plot?  YOU ARE NOT ALONE!  And most importantly, ***You are NOT doing it wrong!!!!***  There is no wrong, unless it doesn’t work for you! Everyone has their own process for creating, and any advice you receive from someone who has “made it” MIGHT work for you, and it might not.  Your own process will be trial and error until you find something that works for YOU.  That is THE BEST advice that any newbie writer can get.

On Boxes:

Instead of starting a year-round Nanowrimo writing group since Houston already has about 30 different groups dedicated to writing with focuses on everything to critiquing to workshops and genre-specific discussions, I decided to try something new each month that I call “Write Outside Your Box” or WOYB for short.  The gist of the exercises is to learn something new by experimenting with different styles/formats of writing outside of our comfort zone in an effort to expand our writing skills.

For WOYB #1, I chose Flash Fiction/Micro Fiction because I wanted the participants (mainly NaNo writers) to try something SHORT, like really short, compared to the madness that is 50,000 words of Nano.  I had them complete 3 exercises (750 word story, 500 word story, and 250 word story) + for fun Hemmingway-esque 6-word stories.  My fav example is still: I’m beside myself; cloning machine works.  Got some very positive feedback on the exercises, with several people going on to submit them to flash fic magazines and contests and expand them into longer stories or novels!

WOYB #2 was POV part 1: Switching 1st person to 3rd or vice versa from your current project, then discussion about how that affected your piece.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend, but Stella received a bunch of positive feedback so I decided to keep ’em coming with April’s meeting.

WOYB #3 will be POV part 2: 2nd person POV. I am super excited about this one because I’ve never attempted to write 2nd person POV before!  There will be 3 exercises:  a choose-your-own-adventure exercise, an epistolary exercise (letter, speech, aside to the reader, etc.), and one more that is more literary (hence a pre-reading assignment of a novel written in 2nd person POV from a great list provided by Waterstones Oxford St Bookstore).  Should be fun! :D

On Media: 

Ok guys!  I learned a new word today, courtesy of Twitter & Deanna Raybourn: Bildungsroman.  Sounds vaguely dirty (perhaps b/c of the “dung” in the middle?) but I definitely had to look it up!   Bildungsroman is a novel of formation, of education, or a coming-of-age story that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood and wherein character change therefore is extremely important.   Um… this is pretty much what I’m writing for Catalyst and I didn’t even know there was a word for it! 

I also decided to set up a Twitter account expressly for my author tweetings & giveaways (that was not hypotheticallyiwrite b/c I figured people would misspell that and I wanted something with my name in it for easy ID).  So my new author Twitter name is LindsayACarlson.  It was promptly suspended–apparently b/c I added too many people to follow in a short period of time.  lol!

Now I’m up to 3 Twitter accts: personal, author, and Houston Nano.  LIGHTBULB!: Some genius created an app that lets you access multiple Twitter (and other social media accounts) at the same time w/o having to log out, and respond from a specific account.  Can I say again, genius?!  :D The iphone app is called HootSuite.   You will want this.  Trust me, logging out each time you need to swap accounts is really annoying, especially with how fast Twitter moves!

I feel like I am slowly getting up to speed with everything I need before I publish my 1st novel… now I just need to finish editing the darn thing!  ;)

How are your WIP (works-in-progress) progressing?

Image (aww! it’s so cute too!)

Writing Goals for 2014!

Hello team!  I am back from the great time-suck that is NaNoWriMo, where I spent the past couple months prepping then leading (with the help of John) the Houston region (~1500 people this year!) as ML (municipal liaison) in a 50,000 word written adventure.  Planned workshops, events, write-ins, and parties, met tons of other amazing writers, and made a slight dent in the editing I need to do for Origami Murders.  I will definitely be back next year for Houston ML round two! :D

In the meantime, I’m getting back to basics and this post will be dedicated to my goals (New Year’s Resolutions?) for writing in 2014.

  1. Most important goal! : Complete editing of The Origami Murders by June 1st (must have deadline!!!)
  2. Test Origami Murders with beta readers, fix errors, then PUBLISH by Dec 31st 2014!  (Publish will likely be self-pub, but we shall see what the beta readers think).
  3. (More for end of 2013 to prep for 2014): Collect info on what to retain for tax purposes for using writing as an income—what to submit as deductions & business-related expenses (apparently if it is a “hobby” income where only part of your income comes from writing you can only deduct certain items versus a full-time writing occupation).
  4. Get back to the blog with MORE FREQUENT posting than once every few months. (sorry peeps!)  Goal of 1 post per week (barring January when I’ll be out of the country in Antarctica!!!!)
  5. Sign up (done!) and participate in Lazette’s free 2-year novel course (starts in Jan) for my YA novel I started during Nano this year to try something new….PLOTTING!
  6. Apply for second-year ML status for NaNoWriMo and WIN in 2014.
  7. Attend a writing conference since I have never been to one.
  8. Submit two short stories for publication in magazines or online.

What are your 2014 goals?  Any suggestions for a good writing conference to attend?

1st Ever Submission! :)

I have returned!!  Sorry for the extended absence y’all, but it’s been crazy busy here with work (real life, boo), and submitting/critiquing for my two critique groups (Team Cobalt and Team Michael(???)<–technically it has no name, but this works!)

For our July Team Cobalt meeting, half the group was in Japan doing vacation-y type things, so the rest of us met up and decided to write a flash fiction piece (<500words) of a sci-fi/fantasy theme as writing practice. We chose this b/c Austin posted a list of calls for submissions and the Pod Castle flash fic contest was one of them.

This post is not about that submission.

I started following Maureen Johnson’s @maureenjohnson twitter feed (YA author of The Name of the Star, and others) b/c she likes cats, and has various episodes of randomness that keep me entertained, and occasional moments of Important Literary Debate (ILD) such as coverflipping

One of the tweets mentioned a literary contest she will be a judge for called Choice Out Loud, a flash fic <500 words for writers aged 18-30. So I went into the ARCHIVES, dusted off one of my stories from college, did a little tweaking to make it <500 words and SUBMITTED my first ever writing submission to anything! :D

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but even if I don’t win, at least I can say I submitted something!  And coming back to the Team Cobalt meeting, I never would have considered doing a flash fiction submission if we hadn’t practiced last month since I’ve been spending so much time working on novel-length works for the past couple years.

So of course, I immediately decided I wanted to submit my unicorn flash fic I did for Team Cobalt, but when I went to read the submission guidelines, they basically said, please shop around first, we do mostly re-pubished material, which I thought was odd, but hey, this is a learning process right (also, jk about this post having no reference to the unicorn story)? ;)  Luckily, they suggested and as places to find publishers looking for original submissions.

Other issues immediately appeared:  1.) When choosing a genre, what the heck is Slipstream?  According to Flash Fiction Online, Slipstream is “a new subgenre that ‘slips’ smoothly between speculative genres, combining, for example, Horror and High Fantasy, or Science Fiction and Steampunk. If your story can’t be easily categorized as Science Fiction but contains speculative elements, it probably belongs here.”  2). Do not include your name or information in the title, submission, or file name, only in the cover letter. What the heck is a cover letter for flash fic?!!  Wouldn’t that be longer than the submission itself?! lol

Blast. Now I must go research cover letters…

First Sentence-Who Cares?!

For the longest time we’ve all heard that the first sentence of a book is what “hooks” readers and gets them to buy it.  Yes, there are lots of wonderful examples of famous first lines that make you want to read more:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

But really, if you can’t get a reader to pick up the book in the first place, who cares how good the first line is?  The most important thing to any book is a great cover.  For example:

This is a book I would never pick up.  Granted, this is  a fictional book cover made to be particularly boring, but still, the liklihood of it becoming a blockbuster is pretty much nil (Sorry fictional Arthur Abram).
The second most important thing to any book is the Title.  If the title isn’t moderately intriguing, you might as well not have written a book, because no one is going to pick it up, let alone buy it.  For example:
51KGN3C5DEL._SL500_AA300_1168a 1486a
Oh. My. God. 75 exciting vegetables!!! Why dont I already own 3 copies of this book?!  Genetic algorithms–ooo! I need to buy this for all my friends!  You get the idea.
So after passing the cover and title test, what do people go for next?  Still not the first line of the story.  Nope.  Phase 3 is the dust jacket/back cover book synopsis.  THIS is where you want to wow the reader, because if this catches their attention, it will ultimately get them to purchase your book.
What not to do:

A clearing deep inside a forest, somewhere near Luton, England. The place looked perfect for a quiet camping night, or as a place for romance, but right now it was not. Who were those twelve strangers? A group of rowdies, six strong, on one side of the place and a group of regular teenagers, also six strong on the other. Tension was in the air. None of the people moved very much, they kept their distance. Words were exchanged, strong statements, but no real threats, no gestures. Then suddenly… A knife… Thrown by one of the rowdies, aimed at one of the teenagers. A straight hit, directly into the shoulder. A cry. The teenager drops to his knees. And the rowdie already has another knife ready.

The situation looked hopeless for the teenagers, they for sure would run away now. But hold on, three of them step forward, guarding the others. They will for sure not stand a chance.

The next knife comes flying, aimed at one of the defenders. He pulls up his arms, cries, but not in pain, the knife is not there yet…

Silence falls on the clearing. What was that? The knife had just stopped in mid air and dropped to the ground a second later. A mishap? An illusion? Or pure luck?

Another one of the rowdies charges towards the teenagers. She looks twice the size than any of them. But wait, something is wrong again. How did she end up on the ground? Tossed through the air, as if she was hit by a rocket. And now. The teenager pushing his friend out of harms way. Look at his speed. Thats not normal either.

What’s going on there? Who are those people? Is this trickery? Or is it magic?

I mean, WTF?  Aside from being poorly written… get me as far away from this book as possible!
So let’s review:
  1. A colorful, eye-catching cover that will draw me close enough to read the title
  2. An intriguing title that will convince me the book deserves a longer look
  3. A brief synopsis that will entice me to read what’s between the covers

Without these, it doesn’t matter how good your first sentence is, let alone the rest of your novel. So what is the point of the first sentence?  Loving the first sentence is basically an affirmation that you made right choice in purchasing the book and gives you permission to continue reading.

Your thoughts?

A Galaxy Far, Far Away….

The nearest star [to Earth] … known as Alpha Centauri C is about four light-years away. That is so far that even with the fastest spaceship on the drawing boards today, a trip to it would take about 10,000 years. -A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking

What does that mean for writers?  It seems like any near-future Sci-Fi would be SOL if they intended to be at least a little realistic in their assumption of space travel.  How do we get beyond one star and not have all our characters be long dead?  There’s always the idea of putting everyone in some sort of stasis while the computer flies the ship, but thats boring as far as I’m concerned.

So what do we have available?

More Stephen Hawking Fun!

  1. Star Trek (Warp Drive): A Faster-than-light technology that creates a bubble of normal space-time around a spaceship while “warping” time-space around the ship.  Visualization of movement is normal due to the bubble of normal space/time.
  2. Stargate & Battlestar Galactica (Jump Drive): Faster-than-light travel taking a spaceship instantaneously from one point to another in space (no time change).  Of course, this method is not explained b/c its pretty much speculative and not based on science as we currently know it.
  3. Star Wars (Hyperspace): A parallel universe/alternate state of existence allowing ships to bypass the barrier of light speed and accelerate to faster-than-light speeds.  Visualization of movement is shown as “streaking” by of stars.
  4. Wormholes: Folding of space-time in layers to create a “shortcut” to another location, while traveling at slower than light speeds within the wormhole.
  5. Spaceballs (Ludacris Speed):  Faster-than-light speed leading to visualization of streaking space and eventually plaid.

So basically, if you can’t make it work, make it up!

PS-For those wondering how far 4 light-years away is: approx. 23 million million miles (yes, million million!)

Ludacris Speed!

Ludacris Speed!